22. THE PEDAGOGY OF THE HOLY CHILD
In light of the tale of The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry, we can discover a great truth: if we look at the world, our lives, and other people with the eyes of a child we will see things in a new and different way. Respect for others, becoming friends, building a relationship between subjects and not between objects estranged to each other, are many pieces of an education aiming each time to get richer in humanity. The values presented in this short story can be read in the light of Gospel values, values that are the basis of inspiration of those who founded the Missionary Association of the Holy Childhood.
Maria Lara Martinez
If you want to deepen
22. THE PEDAGOGY OF THE HOLY CHILD.
Looking for the master in the dialogues of the Little Prince
(Maria Lara Martinez)
Sometimes life is unpredictable and places before us the object of our unconscious investigations without us have endeavoured to find it, but usually most of our findings are preceded by a laborious search. When on the threshold of the Delphic oracle the visitors–Greek or foreign–were warned by the maxim “know thyself”, the subject was being introduced to the greatest adventure which one can dream of, the journey inside our emotions, a tour that moves us, as we feel creatures shaped by supreme hands and guarded by the Creator with royal style, as the lilies that adorn the spring or the birds that fly over the valleys and glens are dressed elegantly.
Thousands of years ago there were also a first Author and a prince of Eden, the human being, exiled for centuries until the Father decided to operate our Redemption through his Son Jesus Christ. Then the people of Israel regained their eyes’ gleam, because that burst of energy that Adam felt under the celestial dome on his index finger was again a reality extended to all mankind and the ancient wound of sin was healed by the balm of forgiveness, renewed every day.
When during Counter-Reformation Catholic priests had to make intelligible the idea of Resurrection to a population three quarters of which were illiterate, they did not think it twice. On Easter they took out in procession the image of the Child Jesus since what better way there would be to show that, after death, a new life awaits us? The Word of God is of course available to us, the instructions the Lord gives us as a guide but, as in the book of Nature all pages tell us about God, we can guess how to follow the right path also in the goodness of the people of flesh and bone, and even in the innocence of those of ink, since the written dialogues reveal us the presence of the Divine Master when a select handful of advices encourages us to rise above the material, give freedom to the spirit and unite peoples.
From this perspective we approach the analysis of The Little Prince, a literary character who turned seventy in 2013 and today still retains such a high capacity to move our minds that seems comparable in its effects to the supernatural relationship binding the Creator with his creatures.
A character conceived in wartime
This short story, written as liberation from the ghosts that overwhelmed its author, Antoine Saint-Exupéry, a French aviator, appeared in April 1943, by a U.S. publisher, in English and French. Not for nothing he had had to experience the detestable absurdity of bombs during the Second World War.
In the middle of that drama, the timeless hero went out with his black boots and his little sword with the noble aim of encouraging the reader to retrieve the innocent being he once had been, as the work includes important social criticism of the strangeness with which adults perceive things: “All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it,” “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.”
Few may know that the child living on the asteroid B 612 was born in New York, near a sunny Long Island home since, after the armistice between the Third Reich and the government of Marshal Petain, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry moved to the United States in self-exile with the mission to persuade the White House government to quickly join the war against the Axis forces.
Immersed in a personal crisis and with failing health, he composed this poetic tale about loneliness, affection, life and death. The short story would give him impetus to reenlist despite opposition from his Salvadoran wife, Consuelo Suncín, in whom some have wanted to see the origin of the rose quoted in the work.
To model the protagonist, Saint-Exupéry was inspired by a little child travelling nestled between his parents in the coach of a train. He narrated the encounter in his second report, sent from Moscow, as a special correspondent for the newspaper Paris-Soir, on May 14, 1935: “I sat in front of a sleeping couple. Between the man and his wife, a child had found some room and was asleep. He turned in his sleep, and in the dim lamplight I saw his face. What lovely face! A golden fruit was born from these two farmers (…). This is the face of a musician, I thought. This is the child Mozart. This is a life full of beautiful promises. The little princes in legends are no different from this one. Protected, sheltered, cultured, this kid could turn out anything. When by a mutation a new rose arises in the garden, all gardeners rejoice. They isolate the rose, take care and shelter it. But there is no gardener for human beings. This little Mozart will be shaped like the rest by the printing machine (…). This little Mozart is already condemned.”
In subsequent autobiographical stories, the writer from Lyon told about his experiences in the Sahara Desert–as in Land of Men (1939)–but in The Little Prince the starting point was an accident he had in the Nile Delta, December 30, 1935. He failed in his attempt to break the speed record for the flight Paris-Saigon, did not win the 150,000 francs prize despite the 19 hours and 44 minutes brave flight that preceded the breakdown, but this experience turned over his life setting him apart as the companion of the blond child who was able to convince with the music of his gaze.
A surprise arises from the accident
The story begins with the encounter between the pilot, lost in the Sahara Desert because of a glitch in his plane, and a little prince who comes to Earth from another planet. In this initial conversation Saint-Exupéry inserted an anecdote happened in his childhood: he drew a boa eating an elephant, but all adults erroneously interpreted the drawn line as a hat. In the story, the prince asks him to paint a lamb but, instead, the pilot shows him his old sketch that, to his surprise, the boy described correctly. After several failed attempts to draw a lamb, in his frustration the narrator chooses to draw a box and explains that the animal is inside it, receiving the consent of the child.
In his world the prince cleaned the craters of volcanoes (allegorically common and routine tasks) and removed the seeds of baobabs (metaphor for the problems) growing nonstop. He needed the lamb to clean the fields, although he changed his mind when the aviator said that the sheep could also eat flowers. This comment prompted the Prince to confess the appreciation he felt for a mysterious rose that he was protecting with a screen and a glass dome: it was pretty, fragile and liked to feel loved, but sometimes showed itself selfish and deceitful. Although he was happy with its company, he soon began to feel that the flower was taking advantage of him, and then decided to explore the universe, the rose apologized for its vanity and urged him to continue his expedition.
From that moment, the prince had visited six planets, each of which was inhabited by an adult difficult to understand. In the first one he encountered a king without subjects, then a proud man who believed he was the most admirable person in the universe, in the third a drunkard drinking to forget the shame of being so, after him a businessman who said he owned all the stars, in the fifth with a lamplighter who turned light on and off every minute and, in the last one, with an old geographer so focused on the theory that he had never seen the reality; was he who recommended him to visit Earth after having brought the mind of the child to the floor by estimating trivial the memory of the rose.
On our planet the Little Prince landed in the desert, met the yellow snake, the seller and the switchman, among other beings who made him realize the permanent dissatisfied condition of the human being. Especially touching is the encounter with a fox who wanted to be tamed. The pilot likely drew inspiration from the mirages he got because of dehydration, during the crash in the Sahara; he came out unhurt from this trance thanks to the treatment applied by a Bedouin. The talk with the fox brought back hope to the Little Prince. After seeing a flowery field, he had cried a lot, doubting whether his rose was just an ordinary one. The words of the desert fox were indeed successful, since they got to infuse courage to the child to continue his voyage without pain: “You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed” “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
The confidences the tender boy places in the heart of his interlocutor are an effective literary device that allows the narrator to describe the adventures of this particular absolute king, while helping the pilot to acquire a more accurate knowledge about himself.
“Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead they demand ‘How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”–the boy affirms.
But every story has an end, his body is too heavy to take it back with his spirit to his planet and, therefore, the Little Prince leaves it on the desert, consoling his friend: looking at the stars and remembering his charming laugh, it would appear that they were together again.
The Little Prince has a humanist meaning of immense depth, hence the work has become an apology of respect and friendship, in short, a valid message for all ages with useful recommendations for any time, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Let us hear his sweet voice and feel acquainted with the proverbs with which the child was opening the senses of the aviator to the only lasting reality.
The father of the Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French author and adventurer, died during the Second World War in a military reconnaissance flight off the coast of Provence on July 31, 1944 when his airplane of the Free France Army was shot down over the Tyrrhenian Sea by a German fighter. The fatal incident befell ten months before the conflict ended up in Europe. The aviation pioneer was forty-four and since the publication of his short story, he almost always carried a copy of it to read to his comrades in arms during lulls in the conflict.
He did not even get time to collect his royalties, but the child who, sitting on his asteroid, contemplates perplexed the adult world, has more than 150 million copies sold with translations into 270 languages and dialects, a bestseller second only to the great religious texts. The watercolour illustrations are made by the same Saint-Exupéry.
In 1843, at the initiative of the French Bishop Forbin-Janson, the Missionary Childhood was founded, an institution of the universal Church aiming to promote mutual aid among the world’s children. Since 1922 it has the status of Pontifical Missionary Society and his first collaborators are children, who pray for their peers living in mission land, offering their small contributions to meet their needs. Unfortunately, 6 out of every 10 children in the world are victims of tragedies (hunger, poverty, violence, exploitation, etc.).
If under the blue mantle of the little prince we notice the presence of the Holy Child, we find several lessons that although we should already have known, it is always good to remember since it is a teaching that does not wear out, rather, it inspires us to resume every day the purification that unites us more to Christ:
His message goes forth through all the earth, through all the planets in the Little Prince’s journey: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14).
The return to Spiritual Childhood: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Striving for poverty of spirit: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).
The importance of friendship as wealth of purity in which God reigns, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
The transience of earthly existence: “‘My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.’ So Pilate said to him: ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18 36-37).
The yearning for elevation above the material and the communion between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8).
Maria Lara Martinez